Hailey’s Crust Bombora: A Work in Progress

Part shape-shifter, part time capsule, Hailey‘s Crust Bikes Bombora has taken many forms. It’s the bike that she got when she first started really getting into bikes, and bike touring, and since then it’s the one she’s altered the most, always finding a way to keep it relevant as her preferences and bike collection evolve. In this somewhat unconventional review, she veers into the sentimental as she highlights some of the setups her Bombora has seen over the past five years.

First Impressions

Not gonna lie, when it came to choosing the Crust Bombora I was like the person picking out a bottle of wine based on how it looked, not because I was a real connoisseur of its contents. I didn’t know a ton about bikes in 2019 but I knew that the Bombora had a classy look (all those frame details!) and fit the broad strokes of what I was searching for in an off-road focused bike that could pull double duty for touring.

If memory serves, I got my Bombora just in time to join Team Cool Breeze at the 2019 California Grinduro. A Friday shake-out ride would be my only intro to riding 650b for the first time and the Bombora’s new-to-me geo before taking on the 100k course with ~8500’ of elevation gain. The race consisted of two long climbs, the second of which brought riders to the top of Mount Hough.

The singletrack descent off Mount Hough—fast bermed flow trail that dropped riders over 3500’ back to the finish—put the “duro” in the name of this timed segment-style event. Going up on gravel roads most of the day, I’d benefited from the Bombora’s more forgiving 650b gear inches. But going down, I felt like I’d never ridden a bike before. Having logged most of my riding time on a Salsa Journeyman with 700c wheels, the Bombora’s comparatively more road-focused position and nimble (read: less stable) handling had me—someone eyeing up berms for the first time, on drop bars no less—feeling a bit out over my skis. But, I made it down and even managed to have some fun along the way.

Photo: Aaron LaVanchy; Tour de Tava, CO; 2020

Riding the Pandemic Wave

Over the course of the next two years—note that initial time stamp of September 2019—I’d log thousands of miles on the Bombora in its original 1×11 Rival groupset, TRP Spyre brake caliper iteration. The early months of 2020 saw a growing news frenzy, but for me it felt like the pandemic really started on March 16th that year—the day that Colorado governor Jared Polis issued indefinite restaurant closures. Just a few days prior, my partner, Tony, and I had been packed up and driving to race The Mid South when we decided—already a couple hours down the road from home—that we were more comfortable skipping the event. (We’ve still yet to remedy this canceled trip to Stillwater!) The following Monday, I got up at some godforsaken pre-dawn hour to go to my shift as a pastry baker at a local coffee shop when the news of Polis’s announcement came mid-morning. Just like that the café closed its doors and I would soon be laid off. Time stood still.

March in Nebraska; 2020

In retrospect, the months that followed felt like dispirited salad days–the paradox inherent in that phrase is intentional. There was so much of that now-familiar Covid qualifier—uncertainty—wrought from our collective fear of the unknown and seeming lack of control of the situation. But with everything on hold also came a limited kind of freedom, for me at least. Tony’s mom had passed away from cancer in late February 2020 and, now, with no job or any other kind of outstanding demands on our time, he and I were able to travel to stay with his dad in the incredibly unpopulated corner of northern Nebraska where he lives—seven miles outside of a town whose 2022 population boasted 363 residents—and stay for two weeks surrounding the funeral. Without kids, or even pets, it felt like we had the privilege of being able to be present indefinitely in that time of grief, now complicated by a world-altering pandemic, as compared to Tony’s sisters, both with young families. My unemployment checks were nearly twice as much as I’d been earning as a baker and it was the first time in years that I hadn’t worried about money.

Pardon the iPhone photos…

We both brought our Bomboras to Nebraska—on that initial two-week trip, and the subsequent trips we made that year during which we were Tony’s dad’s only social contact (aside from grocery runs and doctor appointments). Every ride on those rolling quiet roads felt eerily apocalyptic in the context of the pandemic, but I now know that’s just how it is all the time in rural Nebraska. Seeing more than a couple cars on a multi-hour ride would be noteworthy—seeing any other recreationalists was a certain improbability.

But the isolation imbued the terrain with a deeper sense of discovery, and I’ve never enjoyed riding the Bombora anywhere more than when whooping down the rollercoaster roads that surround the farm. In part, I think the Bombora is uncannily suited to that area’s terrain, but I also think that being a less experienced rider meant I wasn’t constantly thinking about the bike.

The county roads in that corner of northern Nebraska are heavily crowned and they pour the gravel on thick and loose; even for “gravel riding,” my 650b wheels, set up then with Ultradynamico 48 mm Rosés, never felt like too much rubber and I learned to appreciate the Bombora’s forgiving tubeset and lugged steel fork as I bombed down the washboarded and rutted rural roads. It’s far from a stiff bike, and not the lightest gravel bike out there, but there’s a rhythm to riding the Bombora that’s hard to fully articulate.

Thanksgiving in NE; 2020

In March in Nebraska, we felt the gray, raw days of winter turn into the nascent jubilance of spring as we rode past groves of treetop-nesting cranes and clogged our frames with early season mud. In May, we packed picnic lunches and coffee in a thermos as we started piecing together a 100-mile route on the coveted Minimum Maintenance Roads and sprawling grid of loosely-graded county gravel. In November, for our Thanksgiving trip that would be a meal of three, I finally fell in love with the prairie—and its riding—as we witnessed a different kind of golden hour strike the endless waves of tawny grasses. In the wake of urbanization and industrial agriculture, it’s easy to think of the prairie as somewhat abandoned, but as Wendell Berry wrote, “There are no unsacred places\ there are only sacred places\ and desecrated places.”

Along with learning how to move with the bike, I learned through the bike during these Nebraska rides. Stopping to wade across a creek-flooded lane or taking a grassy, hour-long lunch stop during an eight-hour ride was no big deal—aside from making it back to the farm before dark, we had nowhere else to be. As a naturally impatient person, I realized that much of that urgent energy comes from projecting into the future—when will I get to the top of this climb, what do I need to do when I get home? Oddly, riding the Bombora in Nebraska in 2020 helped me stop projecting ahead and instead find more enjoyment in the present tense. The pandemic had wiped the calendar for the foreseeable future and northern Nebraska’s repetitive, punchy landscape made for a kind of Sisyphean riding experience; as soon as you roll your wheels up one hill, there’s another one to follow, so there’s no need to try to rush the miles by. The repetition of the terrain seemed to mirror the stilted sameness of the days—a dystopian Groundhog day effect—as we waited out the pandemic’s first wave. But, aboard the Bombora I found escape and a new love of place. In this way, I’m grateful for that time.

Photo: Aaron LaVanchy; Red Feather Ramble route, northern Colorado; Sept 2021

Upgrades Along the Way

After my initial honeymoon phase with the Bombora, and taking it on an introductory tour in Colorado, I inevitably started thinking about making a few upgrades. The first, and most impactful, change I made was the fork, swapping the lovely (but heavy) lugged steel fork for an early version of Crust’s carbon fork with a straight 1 ⅛” steerer. The fork came finished matte black and I had it color matched to the lavender and blue frame by a local shop. The blades have convenient three pack mounts, and, while shaving two pounds off the total build, I haven’t noticed any significant alteration to the Bombora’s signature smooth ride quality, but I have appreciated the weight savings for touring.

And, the carbon fork boosts the front clearance up from 650b x 2.3” to 650b x 2.8”/700 x 2.2”! Somewhere along the line, I also exchanged the Spyres for Paul’s mythical Klampers—it’s funny what you get used to when you haven’t experienced anything better, but I can say that after eating the proverbial apple of superior stopping power, I’ll never be going back to the Spyres. For a final bit of bling, I eventually upgraded the Rival crankset for Rene Here’s polished aluminum bits; they just look right on that bike.

Photo: Todd Gillman; Tour de Tava, CO; 2020

A Time Capsule

Since my early days with the Bombora—that weekend at Grinduro in California and all those rides in Nebraska—it’s been the vehicle for many cherished experiences. Touring the High Plains Byway route (also in Nebraska); taking my first solo bike-camping overnighter; riding the Sky Island’s Odyssey West Loop developed by Sarah Swallow; (re)discovering the roads of Western North Carolina; along with numerous other formative backyard Colorado tours and day rides. I’ve ridden it for months with a front rack to facilitate weekly bike-to-climb missions close to home, and have even tried it out with 700c wheels paired with 42 mm tires (sportier, but takes some getting used to). It’s hard to parse my affinity for the Bombora from these nostalgia-tinted memories; I can no longer see the bike outside of its sentimental symbolism.

Photos: Todd Gillman; Tour de Tava, CO; 2020

This notion calls to mind a scene from the Norwegian film from director Joachim Trier, The Worst Person in the World in which the character, Aksel—a Gen X-er who is dying from cancer—is reflecting on his life. Reminiscing about his hobby of collecting records and comics in his 20s he says, “I grew up in a time when culture was passed along through objects.” I think this rings doubly true when said objects can also acquire one’s own memories; I still have books from high school reading assignments with teenage-me’s scrawl in the margins. In my experience, a bike like the Bombora simultaneously allows one to feel connected to a broader culture—a modern day gravel bike or tourer with randonneuring roots—while also feeling so singularly linked to one’s own experiences aboard it.

In writing this, I wondered what it would be like to go back to Mount Hough today with the Bombora. Part of this is ego-driven—wanting the validation of knowing that I have become a more capable rider—but part of it stems from that impossible desire to relive the past, if only for a moment; to re-experience what was once new.

Photo: Josh Weinberg; Tempe, AZ; Jan 2024

My Bombora in 2024

Despite my love for the Bombora, my touring bike preferences have evolved, especially in the last couple of years. Not to mention, I’ve flown close enough to the sun in taxing that light tubeset under touring loads (although without any visible effects to date) that I don’t feel the need to test it further. Afterall, Crust labels it a “gravel bike” and a “sportier version” of their more touring-focused Evasion, so I was always probably pushing the limits of the Bombora’s tubeset on loaded, multi-day rides. I have a carbon gravel bike (Rodeo Labs Trail Donkey 3.1) that I like to take out when I’m just keen to make some miles, and the Sklar SuperSomething has slotted itself into my collection as a sort of “gravel-forward ATB”—it has more 700c clearance for the kind of tires I’d want to run as daily drivers and a slightly more MTB-inclined geo, making it a SuperFun choice for rides that rely on dirt roads with a few skinny connectors mixed in.

Photos: Josh Weinberg; Tempe, AZ; Jan 2024

In the interest of avoiding a redundant setup—because a redundant setup would make me feel like I should sell the Bombora—I’ve recently turned it into an alt-bar singlespeed townie, using Velo Orange’s Eccentric Bottom Bracket (yes, it creaks), a Problem Solver XD driver singlespeed kit and SimWorks CrMo Getaround bars. The 700 mm bars, with 20° of sweep and 10° of rise, paired with Rene Herse Umtanum Ridge (650b x 55) tires on Veolcity’s Blunt SS rims makes it feel like a swooping fighter-pilot of a bike that I can run through some nearby, rolling trails, while the 42:19 gear ratio means I won’t get too carried away.

Photo: Josh Weinberg; Tempe, AZ; Jan 2024

Even in this paired down iteration, it’s a bike that I continue to fiddle with. For a while, I really leaned into the commuter mode with a front Wald 137 basket but ditched that when I decided to try out Pascchier’s bamboo Gump 650 bar. They’re a half-pound lighter than the Getaround and I was intrigued by the material. Passchier makes it clear that these are intended for town riding and commuting and I can see why—the bamboo is remarkably compliant. While this might be a selling point for some, I’ll likely revert back to the Getaround soon as the current flex in the Gump bar gives me pause when riding out of the saddle up steeper hills. With summer just around the corner, I should probably put that basket back on for whatever it is I need to carry more of in summer than in winter (watermelon?). Also, I really hate the look of the current SRAM Force cranks, so perhaps when I can put more mental energy into finding a replacement, that will be my next project. And—should I decide to put the gears back on—I’ve never actually tested the 700 x 2.2” clearance of the carbon fork, so I’m sure I’ll have to get around to doing that one of these days.

Photo: Josh Weinberg; Tempe, AZ; Jan 2024

Occasionally, I like to re-read those books that I’ve managed to keep since high school (The Awakening; The Grapes of Wrath)—to revisit those marked up pages and remember what 15 or 16 year-old me saw in them. But each time I crack their covers (I’ll be on my fourth Awakening re-reading if I follow through this year), I also find something new because I’m not the same person that I was on the first reading, or even the second, or third. That’s how I feel about riding the Bombora; I can catch glimpses of my past self and past rides but it can also always feel new. Just like me, it continues to be a work in progress.